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Themes of Influence Groups


East meets West



For the purposes of this exhibition, the link between Asian—specifically, Japanese Mingei (folk pottery) tradition—and American studio ceramics stretches through Britain. The Japanese master potter Shoji Hamada’s* aesthetic exchange with the English potter Bernard Leach* helped cement the infusion of the spirit of Japanese folk pottery with the British tradition.


Their promotion of a high-fire stoneware pottery aesthetic with simple, vigorous brush decoration found many adherents and set the tone for much of American studio pottery, by way of Leach’s A Potter’s Book, and his first American apprentice, Minnesotan Warren MacKenzie*. Leach’s book (and MacKenzie’s teaching legacy) became hugely influential for many of the first wave of US ceramic professors trained under the GI Bill in the 1940s-50s.


Leach and Hamada’s meeting with the young Peter Voulkos* in the 1950s cemented the link to the next wave of American ceramic development.


* asterisks denote ceramists featured in the exhibition




European and Bauhaus Influence


The Bauhaus (1919-1933), a pioneering German art school which was renowned for the equal promotion of art and craft media in its curriculum, left an aesthetic legacy that long outlived its relatively short duration before Hitler’s rise to power. Its relocation to the US further cemented this influence. Although its influence pervaded most art media, regarding ceramics, its stylistic tendency was toward reductivist, geometric design that stressed tersely elegant functional ceramics.


As with a number of Bauhaus artists in the years around WWII, ceramists such as Marguerite Wildenhain*, migrated to America and set up practice. Wildenhain became especially influential through her books as well as pottery. Similarly, other European émigrés, formally unaffiliated with the Bauhaus (but sharing its stylistic preferences)included Lucie Rie* and Vivika and Otto Heino*.


* asterisks denote ceramists featured in the exhibition




Mark of Fire


The high-fire, stoneware and porcelain influence of the Asian tradition highlighted for many ceramists the variable nature of firing in kilns where fire and the effects of carbon on clay and glazes led to dramatic effects. Many 20th century ceramists extended the traditional firing processes to further evolve these surface embellishments. Mid-century ceramists such as Don Reitz* adapted the traditional salt firing process to contemporary ends; regionally, Bob and Cheryl Husby’s* work continues the updating of salt fire technique as a contemporary statement.


In the late 1950s, Paul Soldner* and Hal Riegger extended the traditional Japanese Raku process by adding a post-firing reduction (carbon exposure) that enhanced clay and glaze colors with smoky, chiaroscuro-like effects. Jack Troy* and Karen Karnes* revitalized the wood-firing tradition, adapting it to contemporary pottery forms; Dorian Beaulieu* works in a similar fashion in both gas and wood fire firing methods. Native American artists, such as Maria Martinez*, revitalized traditional pitfiring methods with a new vigor, attracting a new generation of aficionados.


The ceramists featured bring these flame-induced processes and effects to the fore in their work.


* asterisks denote ceramists featured in the exhibition



Clay as Canvas



With the mid-century shift to training artists (and ceramists) in the university, rather than by apprenticeship, came an exposure to visual art mainstream aesthetics as part of the curriculum. Early in the 20th century, and especially in his later ceramics, Picasso* had first shown the way to an incorporation of two-dimensional information on a three-dimensional form.


Robert Rauschenberg’s 1950s combines similarly demonstrated the fusion of 2-D and 3-D sensibilities. Not unsurprisingly, ceramicists in this milieu were not slow to see the potentialities for a medium that previously contained both sculptural and decorative traditions.


Ceramists such as Jun Kaneko* and Akio Takamori* used the entire surface of the ceramic vessel to create fields of pattern or descriptive space. Exuberant painted decoration was taken to new intensities by majolica ceramists Linda Arbuckle* and Karin Kraemer*. A similar abundance of painterly color can be seen in the raku work of Richard Gruchalla and Carrin Rosetti*.


Mechanical means of image transfer, such as silk-screen printing, first introduced into art by way of Pop Art, found their way into the late 20th century ceramics vocabulary, seen here in works by Glyde Wheeler* and Scott Rench*, whose relief slab incorporates imagery taken from the Macintosh operating system of the 1990s with a variety of other images used in a postmodern appropriate mode. Similarly postmodern in its approach to image and text is the work of James Klueg*.


* asterisks denote ceramists featured in the exhibition




Variations on Form: The Vessel moves toward Sculpture



This category concerns the tendency of ceramists to consider the sculptural directions established by mainstream art as they might inform the vessel. These directions in various ways include ideas of assemblage, minimalism and installation.


In the 1960s, Peter Voulkos* began making large sculptural forms by stacking smaller thrown forms in a mode relating to Abstract Expressionism. Don Reitz* and Lyle Perkins* expanded the sculptural vocabulary of the pot in similar ways. Richard Notkin* created a body of slipcast work relating to the Chinese trompe-l’oeil Yixing ware, that appeared to be made of realistic components in an assemblage fashion. Todd Shanafelt* makes multipart assemblage pieces which push this idea to more postmodern ends.


Minimalist attitudes toward form, anticipated by the Bauhaus and culminating in the 1960s Minimalist movement, influenced ceramists such as Ruth Duckworth *, a midcentury European émigré, and more recently, Maren Kloppmann*.


The popularity of installation art, beginning in the 1970s, has opened up the spatial possibilities of claywork as Elizabeth James’* wall piece (in this exhibition) demonstrates. Obviously, charting the immense range of 20th century ceramic styles and attitudes is beyond the scope of this exhibition. However, we are uniquely fortunate in this region to have collections that embody so many tendencies and ceramic artists and educators who continue to expand the vocabulary of the medium.


* asterisks denote ceramists featured in the exhibition




New approaches to Glazing



Even for ceramists who remained true to more mainstream ideas of the functional pot, advances in glaze application technology brought new possibilities in the 20th century. The use of compressed air spray application, contemporary modifications of sponge-applied and stenciled glaze and oxides, and an attitude about multiple glaze techniques combined in the same piece echoed contemporary visual art attitudes on paint application.


In the 1970s, John Glick* developed an aesthetic of layered glazes and oxides, applied by dipping, brushing and sponging, resulting in a baroque-like surface to match his exuberant functional forms. Regionally, John Steffl’s* totemic forms channel in vivid color the painterly pictographic power of painters such as Ida Kohlmeyer.


* asterisks denote ceramists featured in the exhibition


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